$3.5 Million “SmartWatch” Breaks Funding Records

A project to create a wristwatch with an electronic ink screen that allows it to display information from a linked smartphone has raised more than $3.5 million in public funding in just a week.

The Pebble project has destroyed previous records on crowdsourcing site Kickstarter, where the manufacturers were looking to get just $100,000. Backers could donate any amount from $1 upwards, though those “donating” more than $115 (or those among the first 200 people to donate $99) will get one of the watches when they go on sale, which is forecasted to be in September. There are various pledge levels that qualify for multiple watches, meaning that at the time of writing more than 30,000 watches had already been accounted for.

As with the electronic paper display of the Kindle, the Pebble watch can display almost any monochrome image in a clear rather than pixelly or blocky manner. The most basic function of the screen is to allow the user to customize the face of the watch to display the time in the style of their choice.

Once paired with an Android or iPhone handset, the watch can also display notifications. These can include incoming voice calls, e-mails, and Facebook and Twitter messages, which can be dismissed with a shake of the wrist. Text messages can also be displayed, though only from Android devices. It’s also possible to set up alerts, including those triggered by weather reports or forecasts.

The features aren’t fixed, however: users will be able to add specialized applications. Those already in the works include tools for runners and cyclists, the ability to control the music being played on a smartphone and see what track is playing without pulling the phone out, and a specialist golf tool that gives the current distance to the hole on more than 25,000 courses.

For added geekiness, users can create their own applications, either through a software development toolkit, or in a simplied form via iftt.com, an existing site that allows users to create automated tasks based around online accounts such as Twitter or Facebook. Even though the refresh rate would make it far from smooth, I’d love to see somebody try to hook-up Skype or Facetime for the obvious Dick Tracey effect.

The water-resistant device, which has backlight for night-time viewing, lasts for around seven days before needing a recharge via USB. As it connects via Bluetooth, it should shorten the battery life of the paired phone by about five percent.

The phone will face competition from similar devices. For example, Sony has just announced a SmartWatch that also pairs with a smartphone, though it uses an OLED screen. The Sony device is expected to cost $150, which should be around the same price as the Pebble.

The rush of donations for the Pebble meant it beat out short-lived records for the quickest target reached and the highest total pledges, both set in February by Double Fine Adventure, a point-and-click adventure from Monkey Island co-designer Timothy Schafer.

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